Avideo featuring children and families greets customers with the words highlighted on this page (center) as they enter the Union, NJ location of Bedroom Concepts. It is a message that reinforces what they have already seen on cable or heard from their friends. Bedroom Concepts is a store where families can feel comfortable with the process of buying furniture.
Bedroom Concepts has three locations located in Livingston, Union and North Brunswick, NJ. Stores are 6,000 square feet. The North Brunswick location is a warehouse showroom.
|There Is A Strong Consumer Segment Using The Internet To Shop For Brand Names... This site allows them to find the manufacturer, check out specific items and find a retailer in their own area who carries the brand name they are looking for. -Charles Cohen
|Customers Don’t Want To Spend Lots of Time visiting stores that don’t have the right product, the right price, or a sales and service orientation they won’t feel comfortable with. -Charles Cohen
Owners Charles Cohen and brother Jay started their business in 1981 selling waterbeds at indoor flea markets. They worked in South Florida until the 70s when they came home to New York. At that time, related Charles, "there wasn’t an established market for waterbeds, so we were able to bring the product in front of a lot of people and get lots of exposure and were very successful. We changed our name from Waterbed Concepts to Bedroom Concepts because we saw, that we could easily sell more products to our existing customer and at the same time broaden our customer base significantly.
"Even in the early days, when we sold waterbeds at flea markets, we were committed to selling higher-end products. Once we diversified and brought in bedroom, we found that a lot of the methods used to successfully market waterbeds worked well for the entire bedroom furniture line."
Bedroom Concepts customers are in the mid to upper income levels. Women who are 25 to 50 years old with children are the primary target.
"Right now I’m advertising almost exclusively on cable TV," says Charles, "using women’s and children’s programming; Nickelodian, Home & Garden, Lifetime. About 80% of the budget goes to cable, with the remainder to Yellow Pages advertising. In the near future we plan to implement an aggressive direct mail campaign and radically expand our use of the internet including e-mail to bring in customers."
Charles feels that the internet has the potential to be an inexpensive and effective way for Bedroom Concepts to prospect and follow-up. "We’ve recently signed on with Furniturefan.com, and I think the potential is there to attract the customer. There is a strong consumer segment using the internet to shop for manufacturer brand names. This site allows them to find the manufacturer, check out specific items and find a retailer in their own area who carries the brand name they are looking for. The site gives consumers specific information on the product and on the retailer. FurnitureFan. com faxes or e-mails contact information on these consumers directly to us for follow-up.
"This process which provides the customer with access to information on our products and store benefits us as well, by presenting us with a more educated customer. Most of our target customers don’t have a lot of time to shop and the average male household member doesn’t want to go out to shop for furniture at all. They would love to just click and buy the product. The problem is that most people need to touch and feel furniture yet they don’t want to spend a lot of time visiting stores. Especially those stores that don’t have the right product, the right price, or a sales and service orientation they won’t feel comfortable with. The fact is, they can’t find this type of information easily in their Sunday paper.
"Bedroom Concepts doesn’t carry a lot of brand names right now, but we expect that many of our suppliers will be listed on the FurnitureFan site and that this will translate into qualified sales leads at very low cost. We receive a lead sheet for every customer in our trading area who inquires about a product line we carry. Then either the customer will visit the store and be handled through our regular UP system or we will call the customer and arrange a visit."
Charles is currently developing his own website, bedroomconcepts.com. When this site is fully functional, it will be cross linked with the FurnitureFan.com site to give potential customers a broad range of information on store products and services. He also plans to advertise using internet yellow page listings to increase store traffic through web contact.
FurnitureFan is designed to be a web community that acts as a facilitator for the furniture purchase. Customers can log on and look for different brand names. They can take advantage of educational information. When they find a product they like, they can use a dealer locator feature to find a dealer within a travel radius they specify.
Bedroom Concepts sells furniture to families... and families in the New York New Jersey metro area are very busy. Week nights are booked. Weekends are scheduled. Kids have soccer practice, music lessons and tutors. Time is often a more precious commodity than money. "Women do most of the initial shopping; be it online or on foot,” said Charles. “The internet has the potential to cut out much of the leg work. Husbands and wives can make furniture selections on the internet at any hour of the day or night. The challenge so far has been locating the right product on an easy to find site that provides a high level of usefulness," he added.
"There has to be a concern about margins. The internet can also allow customers to find 2 or 3 stores in a 30 mile radius. Along with the potential for finding new customers there is also the potential for losing customers to a store that sells on lower margins and provides less service.
"That’s a challenge we must meet by giving our customers additional reasons to buy from Bedroom Concepts. Once they are in our store, our product selection and display are very convincing. We’ve found that our customers appreciate assistance. Every one of our salespeople is able to lay out a room to scale. Nothing fancy, just rooms and furniture layouts drawn to scale on graph paper. That builds a lot of confidence in our salespeople and in our store. If customers call first, we ask them to bring in room measurements. Sometimes we send them home to get measurements and occasionally we make house calls. Our customers don’t want to make a purchase mistake and we don’t want them to either. What kind of a salesperson tells a customer they are buying too much? Ours do. Salespeople speak about function."
Brothers Jay and Charles are very hands-on in their approach to sales. They tend to rely on personal coaching rather than formal sales meetings. Salesperson turnover is not a problem at Bedroom Concepts. Charles suggested that this is due to the fact that they take great care when hiring. They look for salespeople who are likely to care about their customers and provide a high level of customer service. This, he implied, is more important then industry experience or specialized knowledge of furniture. "Of course," he related, "in this tight job market, finding additional salespeople who are willing to work nights and weekends is a challenge. Newspaper help wanted classified ads and even the recent "tickler" we added to our television commercials were not very productive.
"Furniture retailers are all fighting the perception that many consumers, and prospective employees have of retail furniture salespeople who are positioned just between used car salespeople and lawyers in terms of credibility.
"If you ask the average person if they would be willing to work nights and weekends to make an extra $5,000 per year they would say no and if you offered $10,000 more, most would have to think about it. Most of the good people are working."
Bedroom Concepts is currently in the middle of a major renovation and is in the process of putting in a Lane Gallery, which Charles feels is a highly promotable name in the industry.
"Our ads are strictly product, promoting style and the fact that Bedroom Concepts can meet the needs of families."
They do a lot of special order business and customers have a choice of color. Bedroom Concepts is not "a what you see is what you get store." Signage is important. They make it easy for the customer to see all the available finishes, features and benefits of each group. Finishing touches such as hand painted knobs for children’s furniture make their rooms a little more fun and exciting. All groups are shown in vignettes with pricing, dimensions and features prominently displayed along with their lowest price guarantee.
Competition is fierce in this area of northern New Jersey. All the major stores are represented including Seamans, Huffman Koos and Ethan Allen.
That is why, says Charles, "We give our customers definite reason why they should shop at Bedroom Concepts. First among these is the level of personalized service. Our sales team goes out of their way to make sure that every customer makes the right purchase decision. We advise our customers on proper fit and function so that when their furniture is delivered they will be happy with it and not suffer from buyers remorse.
"From the time a customer walks in the door, their comfort level is pretty high. This is a function of the atmosphere in the store; of our product presentation. We get a lot of drive-by traffic due to our locations on major shopping arteries and our window displays are very attractive and bring lots of people in. We consider it an important part of our advertising.
"We SELL the furniture in the store. We really take the time to show our customers the furniture. We talk about the style, the function and the quality. The price is something that we don’t really have to promote. If people like what they see, and can afford it, they are going to buy it."
Bedroom Concepts’ salespeople don’t have a script or list of questions they ask customers. They do talk about the benefit of buying quality furniture that will last. They emphasize that their furniture will be appropriate for a child that is 4 or 5 years old and will take them right through their teenage years. "We don’t sell baby furniture,” said Charles, "only youth/ teen. That fits in with what the younger children generally want also. They want to have furniture like their older brother or sister.
"Safety is important here. I have mixed emotions about some of these loft beds with the slides coming down. Bunkbeds are not a place for horseplay and when I see a bed with a tent on the top and a slide coming down, I see that as encouraging horseplay. There are certainly liability concerns for a retailer, and the new standards are an improvement. Many parents want to purchase a bunk bed for their 3 or 4 year old. We tell them flat out no! We advise parents, and the law requires, that children under 6 not be placed on the top bunk. We also make sure that bunk beds are fully set up with guard rail installed to specification before we leave.
"Delivery is also important to us. We have two owner operators who work exclusively for us. We’ve just contracted to have new billboard ads placed on the trucks.
"Every piece of furniture is deluxed before it leaves the warehouse. We definitely don’t want any surprises when we get to our customer’s homes. If we do a good job, our first time customers will become repeat customers. They will tell their friends.